SolidWorks 2003?Parts power31 Mar, 2003 By: Jeffrey Rowe
Parts and analysis take center stage in the latest version of 3D modeler.
SolidWorks 2003 is proof positive that CAD products can work out of the box as advertised. After setting the standard for midrange CAD in 1995, SolidWorks, now in its 11th release, continues to raise the bar and keep the competition hopping. Three packages are available in the SolidWorks 2003 family: SolidWorks 2003 is the core modeling software. SolidWorks 2003 Office (the subject of this review) contains the modeler, plus eDrawings Professional for e-mail-enabled design communication; 3D Instant Website for publishing on the Web; PhotoWorks for photorealistic rendering; SolidWorks Animator for animating models; SolidWorks Toolbox, a library of standard components; FeatureWorks, a tool for recognizing features; and SolidWorks Utilities, tools for enhancing productivity.
SolidWorks 2003 Office Professional provides all the offerings in Office, plus PDMWorks, a product data management tool.
SolidWorks 2003 Office has too many new and enhanced capabilities to detail in this review, so I'll concentrate on its most innovative aspects.
While most vendors (including SolidWorks) concentrated on assemblies and attendant performance in the past several releases, SolidWorks 2003 gives a lot of attention to parts. I like this because the design approach I take, called bottom-up design, is very parts oriented: Once I have a completed design in my mind's eye, I create and mate individual parts into subassemblies and assemblies.
Multibody parts are not replacements for assemblies. The general rule is that one part, whether it is multibody or not, should represent one part number in a BOM (bill of materials). And though assemblies are useful for motion studies, multibody parts are not because the multiple solid bodies are not dynamic.
The FeatureManager design tree is handy for creating and managing multibody parts, and it lets you define your own folders. But also important is the FeatureManager's new Rollback feature. With it, you can temporarily revert your model to an earlier phase of development as you suppress more recently added features. When your model is in the rolled-back state, you can edit existing features and add new ones. To roll your model forward again and reinstate changes made before you used Rollback, right-click on a feature and select what you want to do from a context menu.
INSTANT 3D PARTS AND ASSEMBLIES
Many standard components-some of which may be included in your own design assembly-are ready made and accessible from within SolidWorks through 3D ContentCentral (www.3dcontentcentral.com), a repository of specifications and CAD models for parts from about 20 suppliers.
Through 3D ContentCentral you can browse, search for, and download parts from suppliers' online catalogs. Available products include bearings, electronic connectors, tooling, workholders, and power transmission. You can also download selections from a library of parts submitted by SolidWorks users. Some are pretty obscure, but if you find what you need, it saves you time. Once ContentCentral displays a model, you can pan, zoom, and rotate it.
As good a concept as 3D ContentCentral is, there is room for improvement with regard to standards and consistency. First, no two suppliers present their content in the same way or degree of detail. These differences may put some users off. I'm all for individualism, but a format like this begs for consistency in look, feel, and behavior.
It had to happen someday. A vendor, realizing that analysis could and should be performed early in the design process and not as an afterthought, would tie CAD to stress analysis. Well, SolidWorks has done exactly that by integrating COSMOSXpress into its core product. Think of COSMOSXpress as sort of a COSMOSWorks Lite-mechanical analysis for the common folk.
For an FEA (finite-element analysis) tool, COSMOSXpress is quite easy to use. A user-friendly wizard-like tool walks you through the analysis process step by step. With a part in the graphics window, COSMOSXpress helps you designate a material, define restraints and loads, and run the analysis. If you don't like the results, you can change the material, restraints, loads, and geometry (or any combination) and rerun the analysis until you get a satisfactory part. Once you get it down, this process doesn't take long-typically it took me less than a minute to run and display results.
Coupled with SolidWorks' physical dynamics simulation capabilities, COSMOSXpress helps you design parts correctly the first time, without so many time-consuming and costly reworks. It's a long-overdue introduction to FEA for those who thought it was beyond them.
YES, BUT WHICH ONE?
Whether you work in 2D and wonder when to move to 3D, or currently use 3D modeling (SolidWorks or otherwise), there are compelling reasons to buy SolidWorks 2003.
An intangible, but vital, part of the overall package is its active user community, which receives substantial support from SolidWorks and its resellers. I've posed some tough questions and problems at various SolidWorks user group meetings around the country and have almost always come away with an answer. I think anyone new to SolidWorks will have a similar experience and quickly feel a part of the user community.
With SolidWorks and the right third-party products, you can tackle tough problems in plastic mold-making, sheet-metal fabrication, even robotics. SolidWorks is well suited to part and assembly design, machine design, and-as its surfacing capabilities get more sophisticated-industrial design, where styling and complex shape description are major issues.
Determining which of the three packages-SolidWorks 2003, Office, or Office Pro-is right for you depends on your experience and future needs.
Those new to 3D are well served by the core product alone, but many may soon outgrow it and wish they had opted for one of the more comprehensive packages.
Office provides a number of productivity and communication tools for not much more money.
Office Professional costs a bit more still, but provides a medium-duty tool for maintaining version control and managing design data in workgroups. This functionality is not universally needed, but as workgroups and design complexities grow, most users will come to appreciate and rely on a good product data management tool.
Whichever flavor of SolidWorks 2003 you choose, you can be confident
that it will work out of the box. Highly recommended.